To kick off London’sÂ 2015 ballet season, English National Ballet brought itsÂ production ofÂ Swan Lake back to the Coliseum. Nowadays, it is not surprising to find pieces that describeÂ this classicÂ as being “goddamned boring“. Swan Lake and The Nutcracker, are for better or for worse, the â€œpublicâ€ face of classical dance and the level of productions and performers vary immensely across the globe.
It is indeed very hard to find a Swan LakeÂ that hits all the right notes. Several world class companies are currentlyÂ stuck with flawed productions, and what’s worse, artistic directors often cast dancers who are not up to the technical-dramatic challenges of Odette/Odile. As Mr. Clement Crisp remarked a few years ago, there simply aren’t many ballerinas who can dance it.Â But this version, by former company director Derek Deane, strikes gold: beautiful lake scenes, gorgeous designs by Peter Farmer and emphasis on the drama. The prologue is used to show us how Rothbart cast a spell on Odette, and Siegfried is given a yearning solo before he departs in search of the swans. And there were alsoÂ some dream casts on offer.
During this season, 5Â world-class Siegfrieds were invitedÂ to partner the ladies at ENB: RDBâ€™s Alban Lendorf, DNBâ€™s Isaac HernÃ¡ndez and Casey Heard, SFBâ€™s Vitor Luiz and the phenomenal-yet-atypical prince, Ivan Vasiliev, who was paired with Alina Cojocaru. I was lucky enough to catch 2 of these pairings.
It seems evident that Tamara Rojo is still one of the best Swan Queens of our times: she can give you a soft and creamy Odette, longing for freedom and melting at each phrase of the music, and an electrifying Odile. From the first bars of music of the Black Swan pas de deux,Â it is impossible to take your eyes offÂ her, and when the coda arrives, her 32 fouettÃ©s are delivered to kill. We are as bewitched as Siegfried. Hers was Lendorf, who showed us the best of his Danish training: a wonderful expressive upper body brought to life the prince’sÂ romantic ideals, and the buoyancy of his jump (particularly during his solo) spoke of Siegfriedâ€™s wish for freedom. Perfectly matching Rojo’s intense Odile, he also delivered thrilling turnsÂ Ã Â la secondeÂ to thunderous applause of the audience.
In theÂ other performanceÂ I saw,Â Dutch National Ballet’s Isaac HernÃ¡ndez gaveÂ us a younger Siegfried, more impulsive thanÂ introspective. He made great use of his elegantÂ line and fabulous technique, and was an attentive partner to Erina Takahashi’s vulnerable Odette. I do hope he returns toÂ guest with ENB soon (why not in Le Corsaire?) as he seems a natural fit for the company.
WithÂ the sublime Tchaikovsky score and dancers who can bring justice to the double role of Odette/Odile, one can understand Swan Lake‘sÂ power to captivate anÂ audience, its sheer scale and relevance. But, in the end, every successful production of Swan Lake rests on the strength of its swans and ENBâ€™s corps de ballet were fully up to the task:Â Ivanovâ€™s patterns were revealed to us during the lake scenes of Acts 2 and 4, making hearts flutter at the sounds of Tchaikovskyâ€™s beautiful score. It is here that lies the true power of classicalÂ ballet.